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Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says

5 December 2018

From The New York Times:

Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.

With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.

Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.

There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.

Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.

. . . .

Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.

“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”

That the Strand could be threatened by its own preservation seems like a plot twist worthy of one of its books, she said: The very agency entrusted with preserving the city’s treasures is endangering one of them.

Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon — not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers — plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.

. . . .

“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”

. . . .

Owners of buildings with landmark status are in many cases barred from using plans, materials and even paint colors that vary from the original design without the commission’s approval.

. . . .

“Usually I’m on the side of the preservationists, but in this case, I agree with Nancy, because I know the Strand is a store, but it’s really a cultural institution that’s essential to the city,” she said. “And to put that” — meaning, landmark restrictions — “on top of a bookstore is just not fair.”

But Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, an advocacy group, said she believed the Strand’s concerns were unfounded.

“No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties,” she said. “They’re doing it to honor the building.”

. . . .

Ms. Wyden — who is married to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whom she met at the similarly renowned Powell’s book store in Portland — is a third-generation owner of the Strand, which stocks roughly 2.5 million used, rare and new books and employs 230 people.

Her grandfather Benjamin Bass opened the Strand in 1927 on Fourth Avenue’s “Book Row,” which was lined with nearly 50 bookstores. Her father, and Benjamin’s son, Fred Bass, took over the business and worked there until his death in January at age 89.

The family moved the Strand to its current location in 1957 and rented space for decades before buying the building in 1996 for $8.2 million to ensure survival amid rising rents, Ms. Wyden said. The city assessed the building’s value at over $31 million in January.

Though landmark designation is often used to protect buildings from demolition or significant alteration, Ms. Wyden said she has no intention of selling to a developer, and is already restricted by existing zoning from further developing the building.

Link to the rest at The New York Times


2 Comments to “Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says”

  1. It’s easy to declare something that you then don’t then have to pay for.

    I’m reminded of the Olympics, which is supposed to be such an ‘honor’ for a city to host, but can cost that city so much.

    And writers should beware of most of those writing contests that tie up your rights if you submit anything to them. (I see there’s a new ‘Writer Beware’ update.)


  2. I got the distinct impression that the preservationists would like to be able to keep anything in NY from changing, ever.

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